NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 15 Night 1

Tokyo, Japan – 1.4.2021

Two matches took place on Night 1 of Wrestle Kingdom 15 that tied into New Japan USA. The first is a match made after El Phantasmo won the Super J-Cup in California, challenging Best of the Super Juniors 27 winner Hiromu Takahashi to a match to determine junior tournament winner supremacy. The winner of the match would challenge Taiji Ishimori for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight championship on Night 2.

Hiromu Takahashi vs. El Phantasmo

Phantasmo teases ripping up his Super J-Cup jacket and gets caught on the floor with a Jon Woo dropkick off the apron from Takahashi. Takahashi follows that with a senton off the top. Phantasmo escapes Takahashi’s apron powerbomb and gives one to Takahashi himself. He also lands a moonsault press, but upon landing he aggravates his ankle. Takahashi Jon Woo dropkicks Phantasmo when Phantasmo gets too caught up in taunting the crowd with the Terminator clap, and gets two with a Falcon Arrow. Phantasmo stomps on Takahashi’s feet and then stomps on his hands. Takahashi thrust kicks Phantasmo as Phantasmo is seated on the top turnbuckle and brings him down with a high speed prawn hold for two. Phantasmo bites Takahashi’s fingers and snaps them before attempting a Styles Clash. Takahashi counters into the Dynamite Plunger for two, and Victory Royale has the same result. Phantasmo muscles up Takahashi with one arm. As Takahashi tries to roll away, Takahashi drops him with a Jig N’ Tonic for two. Phantasmo “accidentally” knocks down the referee when Takahashi shoves him away while seated on the top turnbuckle. Phantasmo low blows Takahashi and brings him down with an avalanche Frankensteiner, with a subsequent frog splash getting a two count. The Styles Clash connects this time and Takahashi kicks out of that as well. He tries the One-Winged Angel. Takahashi rolls forward, then scoops Phantasmo up into a Death Valley Driver into the corner. Phantasmo counters Time Bomb with a jackknife pin, then stomps on Takahashi’s hand before kicking him upside the head. Takahashi counters the CR II with a huracanrana, scoring the pin at 17:46. Phantasmo did a great job integrating his persona into the match, and I especially appreciate the story wrinkle of his echoes to BULLET CLUB members of the past not succeeding. For my money, Takahashi is one of the best NJPW wrestlers going today and was the right person to advance to face Ishimori on Night 2. The crowd was as hot as they could be given the COVID protocols which is also appreciated. ***½

IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship #1 Contendership Briefcase
KENTA vs. Satoshi Kojima

Before the competitors make their entrance a video is played on the big screen. IWGP United States Heavyweight Champion Jon Moxley is alone in the STRONG arena in California. This is the first time he’s been seen in New Japan since February 10, 2020. He says he’s coming for whoever walks out the Tokyo Dome with the contract.

This is KENTA’s fifth defense of the briefcase. Juice Robinson was originally slated to challenge KENTA for the briefcase, but when he suffered a broken orbital bone, Kojima stepped in and challenged KENTA for the briefcase instead. This is his first Tokyo Dome singles match since 2014, where he defeated Rob Conway to win the NWA World Title. Hiroyoshi Tenzan is in Kojima’s corner.

Kojima doesn’t let KENTA waste time outside of the ring. KENTA starts pestering Tenzan, and when Kojima comes after him, KENTA pushes Kojima into Tenzan and gives Kojima a DDT on the floor. The fans fire up when Kojima comes back with Mongolian Chops back in the ring. KENTA however stops Kojima on the top turnbuckle, raking his eyes before bringing him down with a superplex. Kojima kicks out after a diving clothesline from KENTA and gives KENTA a DDT on the ring apron. KENTA gets up first and crushes Kojima with a running boot and seated dropkick in the corner. Kojima kicks out from a double stomp off the top. Kojima breaks a Go 2 Sleep attempt and delivers the Koji Cutter. KENTA blocks his lariat with a powerslam. KENTA tries using the briefcase behind the referee’s back. Kojima lariats it out of his hands, then hits a clothesline as KENTA comes off the ropes for two. Kojima fights out of another Go 2 Sleep after taking a Busaiku Knee. KENTA chops down Kojima to his knees, hits a second Busaiku Knee, and finally connects with Go 2 Sleep for the pin at 14:12. They baked a lot of history into this match, with commentary mentioning how long it had been since Kojima wrestled a singles match in the Tokyo Dome, Kojima using Tenzan’s Mongolian Chops, and KENTA using his key offense which is also shared with Shibata, whom he attacked to join BULLET CLUB a year and a half earlier. All those factors were not lost on the crowd, who were super behind Kojima. With KENTA calling out Moxley on several occasions on STRONG, I had no doubts he was walking out of this with the briefcase, but for the feel good moment this was for Kojima and the fans I can say this was a totally worthwhile briefcase challenge. On a sliding scale this was “clean” for a KENTA match which is also nice. ***½

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